Leifer's Lasting Legacy
On March 8, 2021, after three-and-a-half seasons, Gabe Leifer (SSSB ‘21) donned the Blue and White for what may have been the final time against the Stevens Institute of Technology. When Leifer arrived on campus three years ago, the YU men’s basketball program was far from what it is today. The Macs had never won a Skyline championship, nevermind visited the NCAA DIII tournament.
Leifer joined the team in the middle of the 2017-2018 season, and his impact was felt immediately. Having gone 6-8 in the first half of the year without Leifer, the Macs managed a 9-2 record after his arrival, making their way to the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history.
The 6’’6 forward leaves a Macs team with quite big shoes to fill. Leifer was named The Skyline division player of the year for the 2018-2019 season and was selected to the D3hoops.com All American fourth team last season. Over his three-and-a-half years on the court, he has scored more than 1,000 total points and racked up 973 rebounds. For one who is so dominant on the court, one might expect a haughty personality, but Leifer is humble, kind and calm.
His style of play also exudes calmness. There is rarely unnecessary movement in his play. On defense, his size and presence creates relentless pressure against the opponent. On offense, he makes shooting a three or posting up for a lay up look effortless. “Gabe is the ultimate winner, a genius passer and all-time rebounder … he’s the most unselfish superstar I’ve ever seen,” Ryan Turell (SSSB '22) told The Commentator.
With Leifer at the helm, the Macs had a better overall record in the 2018-2019 season than in the previous year but failed to win the Skyline Championship; they fell to Farmingdale State College in the finals of the tournament. When asked what changed going into the 2019-2020 season, Leifer answered: “experience.” As Leifer pointed out to The Commentator, if one were to look at most of the successful DI and DII teams, their rosters are mostly made up of seniors.
With an experienced core consisting of Simcha Halpert (SSSB ‘20), Turrell and Leifer himself, last year’s team put together the greatest season to date. They had the best record of any DIII team in the nation, won the Skyline championship and made it as far as the Sweet 16 of the NCAA DIII tournament before it was canceled due to COVID-19.
Leifer told The Commentator he does not have regrets over the 2019-20 season’s outcome. “Regrets? No. Do I wish the 2020 tournament had happened? Do I wish there was one this year? Yeah.” But he’s not looking back at what could have been with disappointment. “What happened [in 2020] was bigger than basketball; a lot of people had it worse,” expressed Leifer.
In 2021, after a significant hiatus, the Macs have picked up right where they left off, winning their first seven games this year. They have yet to lose a game since last season, marking 36 straight wins, the second-longest streak in DIII history. 30-plus game win streaks are familiar to Leifer. In his senior year at DRS high school in 2016, Gabe not only dunked in the Yeshiva League semifinals, but led the DRS Wildcats to a 33-0 season, which included winning the Red Sarachek Tournament at YU.
As the fanless, truncated 2021 season comes to a close, Leifer is proudest of the community the team has fostered. Over the last three seasons, the Macs have been about as big as a DIII NCAA basketball team can be. They have had articles written about them in Tablet, The Daily News and AP, and even garnered attention from the respective owners of the New England Patriots and the Milwaukee Bucks. Throughout it all, Gabe is proud he and the team have represented the Jewish people in a positive way.
Leifer’s selflessness, and the team’s middot in general, have served as a great influence to many. Gabe recalled that at a wedding someone came over to him and told him that his son never wore a kippah while playing basketball. But after seeing the Macs play with their kippot on, his son changed his mind. “It’s something I would have never known about,” explained Leifer.
As he moves on to a full-time job, Leifer told The Commentator that he will miss being part of the team, creating relationships with teammates and being a mentor. When asked what he was looking forward to about not being on the team, Leifer had a very simple answer: “Sleep.” This makes sense, as the Macs practice four to five times a week from about 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.
As Leifer leaves the Max Stern Athletic Center for the last time, without any fans in the stands, it may leave a sour taste in the mouths of many. But Gabe does not look at it that way. He is proud of what he has accomplished. Speaking on Leifer’s legacy, former MacsLive President David Schwartzman (SSSB’ 20) said, “Gabe’s presence brought leadership, talent, energy and confidence. His impact was so tangible[.]” Leifer’s influence on the court helped shape the Macs into a formidable contender. As he leaves, a new era dawns, but the impact of his years as a Maccabee on and off the court will not be easily forgotten.
Photo-Caption: Leifer making basketball look easy.
Photo-Credit: Yeshiva Athletics